Leading multinationals will be able to strike US-style plea bargains to end longrunning foreign corruption inquiries after prosecutors unveiled a landmark settlement yesterday over suspected bribery in the $130m (£75m) reimagining of Alexandria’s lost ancient library in Egypt.

Balfour Beatty, which was under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, agreed to admit “payment irregularities” and accept a penalty of £2.25m, in exchange for no charges being brought.

Lawyers said the deal would open the way to settlements in other overseas cases, though the lack of a prosecution raised questions of whether the deterrent effect would be sufficient.

Tony Woodcock, a partner at Stephenson Harwood, said it was a 'hugely significant step', though prosecutors must avoid creating a perception that companies could “pay their way” out of trouble.

He said: 'It will be necessary to ensure that this process is not used as a cop-out for good investigation and vigorous prosecution, where that is appropriate.'

Financial Times, The Times